AmberChes Spirits began as a lockdown project for the Rheeston-Stewart family in Australia, but has grown into a globally recognised brand
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Alicia and Lauren Rheeston-Stewart returned home from their studies in the UK. It was during this time that the family, currently based in Western Australia, built a gin distillery at their home. Now, AmberChes Spirits – partly named after the family’s Irish Setter, Chester – continues to grow and has won prestigious global awards, including a Master Medal at the Global Gin Masters 2022.
The plan arose out of one of Alicia’s projects for her master’s in chemical engineering, which involved research into creating ethanol from whey. Her parents, Dean and Heather, and sister Lauren were happy to help with the research, visiting local distilleries to sample their goods while learning about the gin-making process. With the family’s strong engineering background (Dean and Lauren are both mechanical engineers), they began to think, “Why don’t we start our own distillery?” Alicia and Dean signed up for an online course in distilling, cleared out the family’s barn to make way for the distilling apparatus and hired a local artist to work on the branding.
Alicia then set about creating her gin recipes. “I wanted to make an elderflower gin. Mum liked orange and Lauren liked raspberry,” explains Alicia. “So I thought, ‘Let’s figure out how to get there. What do we think would pair well?’”
Alicia was determined to produce a top-quality product, with ingredients sourced as locally as possible. The raspberries, for example, come from a farm 20 minutes away and the oranges are hand-peeled. Each batch of gin is produced individually and tasted to ensure it is just right. “We can now pick the flavour shifts pretty easily when it gets towards the end of the distillation so we know exactly when to cut,” says Dean. The whole production is carried out with the same precision, including bottling and labelling.
The result of that attention to detail is in the tasting. Alicia describes the Botanical – the company’s most successful gin, which, in addition to the Master Medal, won Gold at the 2022 World Spirits Competition in San Francisco, alongside Gold Medals in the UK and Australia – as a London Dry Gin with a floral twist. “It’s complex because it has light flavours, but the cardamom comes through to give it a bit of spice. It’s also very smooth so you don’t get that afterburn,” she says.
“We don’t conform to trends in any way. At the moment, sugary fruit gins are popular, but that’s one of the things I want to stay away from. We created London Dry-style fruit gins with the flavour coming from real fruit. Everything has to be the best quality and done correctly. We’re not just putting out gins for the sake of it. We want people to really enjoy them.”
Aside from the acclaim the gin has received, AmberChes brought the family together at a time when the pandemic pushed many apart. “We all have our own opinions on how things should be done, but we enjoy working together, with Alicia now splitting her time between Australia and the UK,” says Dean.
Plans are now in place to increase output, hire more staff and open a tasting room nearby. “AmberChes has taken over our lives,” he says, “but we are happy doing it and we look forward to what the future may hold for the business.”